Sunday, January 30, 2011

Top of the Crops-Great Veggie Seed to Grow.

Now that I have my seed listing up on my website, it's time to talk about a few of my favourite things...and seeds that are consistently best sellers.

 Since I started selling seed some 4 or 5 years ago, Seed Savers Lettuce Mixture has consistently been my best seller.  There is a really good reason for this! 

 It combines some absolutely lovely heirloom lettuces, most notably my personal favourite Bronze Arrowhead.   

Also in this mix is Deer Tongue, the gorgeous speckled Forellenschluss, deep red Red Velvet and at least 4 more varieties.  

This mix could be planted as a cutting mix, or started ahead in cell packs and planted out individually to form heads.

I use it in both ways. With 250 seeds per pack, it ends up being a lot of lettuce.

For a cutting mix, I like to plant my lettuce weekly, on the same day every week.  It takes a good amount of water and about 4 weeks for me to get it where I like it, about 3 " high.  Even in the high heat of mid summer, I find if I keep watering, it stays tender and non bitter.  At times that can be up to five waterings a day.  Worth it?  A resounding "YES"!

I know some folks consider this a "cut and come again" crop.  I never find the quality of the second cut nearly as good, so for that reason, turn it under after the first cut and reseed.  In this way through the whole season i always have four salad patches on the go.  Every week harvesting and every week planting.  Most importantly, every day watering and watching!

If I'm growing it to get heads, I sprinkle my seed on a flat filled with soil less mix.  I like a mix with Myke (mycorrhizae-a beneficial fungi) added.  Lettuce seed likes light to germinate, so covering the seed is not necessary. It needs to be kept moist however, and after germination and the appearance of the true leaves, I transplant it into cell packs, to grow it out further until transplanting into the garden.
Will 250 heads of lettuce keep you going all season?  Should-even for a family of bunnies.

And now for something completely different.

Hope I'm not misleading you...this one you don't eat, and trust me, don't want to.

I got the seed many years ago from William Woys Weaver, a noted chef , gardener and food historian.  He indicated the only use for it was to keep goats out of your garden!

It is in the nightshade family, and is named solanum atropurpureum.  Good luck finding the seed for this thorny marvel any where else..but it is worth growing.  It is just too cool!

It has a black purple stem covered in thorns,leaves with a thorny purple black spine and grows the interesting fruit pictured above.  This fruit turns a brilliant golden colour in the fall.  It grows to about 4' and is a sight to behold.  It is starting to develop a following-it is just THAT different.

Simple to grow, I start it right around the time I start my tomatoes, mid March to early April.  It is quite carefree.  I mean who is going to mess with those thorns?

And last tonight but far from least, is my favourite little melon,
Minnesota Midget.

This is a super personal sized melon.  For me, they generally grow no larger than 5" in diameter.  They have a wonderfully sweet orange flesh.  I like to chill them first in the fridge, then eat 'em.  Cool melons on a hot summer day are magic.  And with this small one, it is just a matter of slicing it in half, popping out the seeds and away we go!

Best of all, this melon has reasonably contained vines and is ideal for a small garden, and good for the northern garden. But it still manages to kick out quite a few fruit.

I generally start my melons around the beginning of May in peat pots in warm conditions. Depending on the year, that could be inside under lights, or in the hoop house if the temps are dipping too low.

In 3-4 weeks the plants are generally the size I like.  After hardening them off, I plant them in a hill I've created with compost and soil mixed together.  It's important to stay on top of the watering with melons too, and this I do.  Add the summer heat and they perform magnificently.

Ah, yes...summer will come.  But now is the time for planning some interesting and different crops.
Try 'em and see !

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

2010 Test Garden...the results are in!

It was exciting to get my Organic Gardening magazine, (Feb-Mar, 2011) in the mail today highlighting some of the treasures that the test gardeners (of which I am one) trialled last year.

If you are putting in a garden this year, there were a few items that were just outstanding.  They may just be worth your consideration!

Be aware that not all the test gardeners agreed on all these findings.  There is a huge range where we are growing; from Wellandport, to Las Vegas to Idaho to California and Washington State.  In total there are 14 of us, plus of course the test garden at "headquarters" in Emmaus , Pennsylvania.  Different weather, different soil, pretty much different everything!

I had in the range of thirty different seed varieties to try.  There were quite a few tomatoes, peppers and beans.  Also a good number of lettuces, flowers and a basil and watermelon.

 First, let me say that the flowers were a big surprise and delight.

I don't at all consider myself a flower garden person, but flowers, especially carefree, bright and happy ones like these could convert me.
Definitely worth growing are the two 2010 AAS (All America Selection) winners, Double Zahara Fire  Zinnia and Double Zahara Cherry Zinnia (pictured at right). Exceptional!  These were colourful, full of blooms all season, carefree and totally uplifting.

The AAS winning Marigold, Moonsong Deep Orange was also exceptional with it's bright and large flower balls of colour.  And as with all marigolds, trouble free.  Very worthwhile.

Of the four lettuce varieties I trialled, Sea of Red is definitely the most memorable.

Sea of Red is without a doubt the darkest colour of lettuce I have ever grown.
Deep burgundy, this leaf lettuce (courtesy of Renee's Garden) was a hit in the salad bowl as it was an incredible contrast to the other ingredients and was sweet and crunchy.  Really, just gorgeous!

The peppers were all very good, but the one that knocked my socks off for earliness and productivity was Pinot Noir.  Good in the purple and red stage and heavy with peppers all season, this one was producing WAY ahead of every other pepper in my garden.  We were eating lots of these in July, while the rest of my peppers came on strong in August.  Unbelievable.  The seeds for these were courtesy of Burpee, but sadly they won't ship into Canada.  To get seeds for these you need to be creative (ie-got an American friend?)  Trust me, worth it in every way.

Tomatoes were the most difficult category for me to try.  I do have a built in bias for heirlooms.  And the heirloom seed I was given didn't disappoint.

Green Cherokee, although not a huge producer, is a luscious tasting green tomato.  I've grown it for years, and knew I would like it.  Red Pearl (Johnny's) was an excellent grape-type cherry, although I found the skin a tad tough.  But, wow- sweet and yummy.  It was hard to stop eating it.  I found it very similar to another tomato I discovered on my own last year-Elfin.  Elfin is an open pollinated variety, so I'll probably stick with it, but Red Pearl is very good.

San Marzano 3 , an open pollinated paste was virtually indistinguishable from my favourite paste tomato, Federle.  A long sausage type tomato, it was meaty, with a small seed cavity, with a lovely rich flavour.

One tomato that I didn't care for at all, unlike many of my fellow testers, was the heirloom imposter, Tye-Dye, from Burpee.  This tomato, yellow with red marbling, was pretty, but tough and tasteless.  The heirloom bicolours can't be beat.

Bean-wise, Turkey Craw (Seed Savers Exchange) produced well for me.  This is a dry bush bean...a smallish brown mottled colour.  It's been a tasty winner in winter soups.
Beananza, again from Burpee, was my favourite fresh bean, perhaps because I am partial to french filet types.  This one held well on the plant, was long and slim, with good flavour.

Time to start thinking garden, so consider these suggestions.  And for more results, check out the magazine and the highlights at:

Friday, January 21, 2011

Simple Oatmeal Jam Bars vs "The Family"

 My husband works in Brantford and drives over an hour to get to his job everyday.  Then back again at night.

The one good thing about this drive as far as I'm concerned is that he passes through "Hewitt's" territory.  Hewitt's dairy is an independently owned dairy in Hagersville and they make 10% cream for my coffee that doesn't have all kinds of stuff in it like the bigger dairies.  It is simply milk and cream.

It doesn't stay good for two years in the fridge like the other stuff, but that's fine with me.  Shorter shelf (fridge) life can be the sign of a good thing.

The Foodland store in Cayuga is where he'll usually stop to pick up the cream and Hewitt's milk as well.
It's the closest place to me in Wellandport that it's sold.  Problem is , most the time when he's walking in the Foodland, funny things happen.  Doritos are bought.  Pepperettes are bought.  Chocolate bars are bought.  They're gone by the time he gets home, but he doesn't fool me.  I find the wrappers in the outside garbage can the next morning when I walk by to do my chores.

Last night he walked in the door with my cream and milk, proudly holding high something in a plastic container.  You know, the great hunter bringing the family home a meal.  Hmm.  I was a little bit suspicious of his find.  Must be good, though.  It says right on it "Simply the Best" and also "family owned and operated."

In my mind though the ingredient list looked long.  Mighty long.  So I had Mollie start counting how many ingredients were actually in this "Raspberry Loaf Cake".  Turns out it had 41 ingredients...41!?
Wow.  Now THATS a cake!

Some of the ingredients I knew.  Some were a bit of a puzzle.  Sodium aluminum phosphate, sodium propionate, sodium citrate, artificial flavour, FD+C Red # 40.  Son of a gun.  And it was my husband who reminded me that Michael Pollan said if it had ingredients your grandma wouldn't recognize, it is better off not eaten, and one should beware of foods with more than 5 ingredients in them.

Exceeded a bit in this case.

41 ingredients really is a lot.

Fortunately we didn't eat it.  Usually when I have food left over, my pig Joey or my chickens will gobble up the goodies.  But this doesn't seem that good to me and I really don't feel good about giving it to anybody.  Not Joey or the chickens.

And what's with the advertising?  Am I supposed to feel good about it, or differently about it because the company is 'family owned and operated"?

I had already made a dessert for supper anyways.  I found the recipe on the internet, and have made it a few times.  Easy squeasy.  And extra good too because I have lots of homemade jam from my own fruit that I can use.  And yes, it is more than 5 ingredients.   But not many more, and I can pronounce them all!!

Oatmeal Jam bars


  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups quick oats, such as Quaker
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 cups raspberry jam


  1. Heat oven to 350° F. Place the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and butter in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times until the ingredients are combined and a crumbly dough is formed. Add the oats and lemon zest. Pulse quickly twice to combine.
  2. Press 2/3 of the dough firmly into a greased 9-by-13-inch pan. Spread the jam evenly over the crust. Sprinkle the remaining dough over the jam, gently pressing down.
  3. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool completely, about 2 hours. Cut into 24 bars. 

I find this works just as well with whole wheat flour, and I omitted the lemon zest.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Excellent eggplant!

And now, after a slight detour to discuss Seedy Saturday, I'm back to the vegetables.  Which of course is mostly what Seedy Saturday is all about!

Eggplants. Ah.

Time to start talking about them, because soon it will be time to plant them.

What I have again in eggplants is a vegetable no one in my family would agree is excellent.  But sometimes they announce as they are eating it how much they are enjoying it.  Go figure.  Of course they don't KNOW they are eating it....and that is the beauty of eggplant.

Much like my beloved tofu, it takes up the flavour of whatever you are cooking it in or with.  And it ends up in that way being terrifically versatile.

I've grown lots of eggplant over the years.  They are one thing that I find it really hard to cut back on.  I mean they are absolutely gorgeous in the garden..the purples, stripes.  The oranges, yellows, reds, greens and beautiful shapes.  Despite the fact that up until a few years ago I found them a hard sell, just like hot peppers, I typically find room for about 40 or so different varieties.

I. Can't. Stop.   These beauties are magnificent, and have every right to show off in the flower garden if you so wish.  Thank goodness now people are turning on to their goodness and buying them.  Clearly at some point there can just be too many for one family!

Eggplants have never been extremely popular.  For many years in their history, as members of the nightshade family, it was believed that their fruit was deadly, as was the tomato.

In the third century AD however, the Chinese began experimenting with less bitter cultivars they had developed, beautiful colourful and slender fruit.  But even at that point, it was oddly enough believed that they were only to be used by professional chefs...home cooks shouldn't risk the poisoning of their families.  What these professional chefs actually did that detoxified them is a mystery yet unsolved!

In North America Thomas Jefferson was amongst the first to give the eggplant, also known as "the mad apple" a try, despite the fact it earned this nickname as it was thought to cause insanity.  He wrote about his eggplant trials in his garden journal in 1809, and by mid century, eggplant recipes were rather common in American cookbooks.  But they were considered appropriate for breakfast dishes.  Don't know about you, but I find that a little difficult to stomach.  A common way they were served for breakfast was just simply slicing, and frying in butter.  Hmm.

Perhaps another reason eggplant was slow to catch on is because it requires certain conditions to grow well, heat being the priority.  Eggplant grows best in USDA zone 5 and up, struggling in the colder zones.

For me here in the balmy banana belt of Canada, Canadian zone 6b, I can manage to grow eggplant quite nicely in a good season.

I try to give my eggplants a nice early start indoors and under lights.  I get them going first, then come the peppers and a few weeks later the arduous task of planting 10,000 tomato seeds.  It is usually mid-February to late February when the first eggplant seeds hit the soil (less) mix.  Most of the varieties I grow require a long season, so an early start in a warm environment is essential.

I find eggplants very susceptible to aphids when they are growing indoors, so I keep a close watch.  If I find there is a problem, I wash the plants, hence the aphids off, under warm water.

Eggplants like it warm, so I am never in a rush to get them in the ground.  If they are exposed to temperatures of 50 degrees F or less for any period of time, they will suffer.  And a frost?  They're done. In my area, having nice eggplant transplants in the warm ground in June is ideal.

I plant them much as I plant tomatoes, although I space them a bit closer together.  I dig my planting holes 2 feet apart, add a good hefty shovelful of compost , pop in my plant, cover the root and water.

Unlike tomatoes, eggplants do not want to be planted deep.  Give them a good drink once a week after they are established and they should produce well. When I water I always hold the hose to the base of the plant and water while I count very slowly to ten. 10 slow seconds is magic to eggplants and peppers! A nice thick layer of mulch is helpful to retain moisture and to combat weed problems.

The worst problem you are likely to have with eggplants is the dreaded Colorado Potato Beetle, who actually prefer eggplants over potatoes.  I have an Italian friend who is a market grower and she simply won't grow her beloved eggplants anymore.  The beetles simply destroy them year after year.
It pays to be vigilant with potato bugs.  If you can get the eggs before they hatch, you're ahead of the game.  Check the undersides of eggplant leaves for the deposits of bright orange eggs, and destroy.
If allowed to hatch you are always playing catch-up.  They are voracious eaters in the larvae stage, and not nearly as pleasant to squish!

I sell seed for a number of my favourites.  Ping Tung Long would be one of those, a  mauve and white long Asian type which is a wonderful producer, requires no peeling and has a mild flavour.  Then there is the beautiful Italian Listadia de Gandia, pictured above with purple and white striping, Thai long green, another non bitter beauty, and Casper- a teardrop shaped white heirloom.

Try a few different ones this year...maybe you'll find a new favourite!

Save this recipe for the summer when your eggplants are producing well.  It is my favourite eggplant recipe from Andrea Chesman's wonderful book "The Garden Fresh Vegetable Cookbook"

Eggplant Lasagna
Note: The lasagna can be assembled and held for up to 8 hours in the refrigerator. Add 15 minutes to the baking time if it is cold when placed in the oven. The lasagna can also be baked in advance and frozen for up to a month. Bake it still frozen and covered with foil, adding 30 minutes to baking time.
1/3 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggplants (3 medium or 4 smaller), peeled and sliced lengthwise 3/8 inch thick
1 pound (about 2 cups) ricotta cheese
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
3 cups shredded mozzarella
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
4 cups well-seasoned tomato sauce (homemade or pre-made)
12 no-cook lasagna noodles
Pre-heat the oven to 425˚F. Lightly grease two large sheets pans (preferred) or shallow roasting pans with oil. Combine the oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Mix well. Brush the eggplant slices on one side with the seasoned oil and set the slices, oiled-side down, on the prepared pans. Roast in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until browned on the bottom. Brush the second side with oil, turn the slices over, rotate the pan from the top to bottom and side to side, and continue roasting for another 15 to 20 minutes, until browned on the second side. Remove the pans from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 350˚F.
Combine the ricotta, egg, and basil in a medium bowl and mix well. Combine the mozzarella and Parmesan in a second bowl and toss to mix. To assemble the lasagna, spread about 1 cup of the sauce in a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish. Place three lasagna noodles over the sauce. The noodles should not touch or overlap. Spread 1 cup of the sauce over the noodles. Arrange a layer of one third of the eggplant over the sauce. Spread one third of the ricotta mixture evenly over the eggplant. Sprinkle a fourth of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses on top. Repeat the layering twice. Top with remaining three lasagna noodles. Spread the remaining sauce on top. Sprinkle with the remaining cheeses. Cover with foil.
Bake lasagna for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Let the lasagna stand for 5 minutes before cutting into serving pieces. Serve warm or hot.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Niagara Seedy Saturday Flyer

NIAGARA Seedy Saturday
Saturday, February 12, 2011,  10 – 3 pm
   Centre for Conservation at Ball’s Falls Conservation Area,   6th Ave. Jordan
Event Participants: $2.00 Admission – or Donation at Door
Seedy Saturday is a celebration and sharing of open-pollinated seeds and gardening know-how —“saving our past for our future.”  Seedy Saturday and Seedy Sunday events are held across Canada.
Seedy Saturday is about:
  • saving, swapping, buying, and selling seeds that have not been genetically modified 
  • promoting open-pollinated varieties of vegetables, fruits, flowers, grains, and herbs
  • preserving heirloom varieties
  • conserving biodiversity
  • growing native plants and plants adapted to local conditions
  • creating and sustaining gardening communities
  • ensuring food security
  • sharing gardening know-how
Events and Activities:
  • Exhibitors
  • Presenters 
  • Seed Retailers
  • Door Prizes
  • Free Coffee & Tea & Treats
  • Light Lunch Available For Purchase
“Garden Give-away Table” a free exchange and/or giveaway of clean pots, trays, magazines, books, garden utensils….
Seedy Saturday agenda:
10 am     Start of Seedy Saturday - Seed Swap & Retail all day …..
10:15       Welcome and Master Gardener John Renaud “Growing with Myke”
11 am      Steven Biggs “Growing Figs and Currants “  
12:15       Kate Green, USC Canada,film  “Saving the Seed” and discussion.
1 pm       Jen Heaton “Vermi-composting”
2 pm     Master Gardener Wendy Dunnville “Showing what you’re growing”

Please feel free to copy this flyer and post it-everywhere!

And note: lunch will be served by my friends at peapod cuisine (aka elgastronomo).  Looking forward to it all!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Niagara Seedy Saturday 2011

2010 -Crowd listening to a speaker.
2010- the seed exchange table , not much left!
 If you like  growing food, want to mingle with other like minded people, pick up a bit of useful information, Niagara Seedy Saturday-the fifth annual, is right around the corner.

In fact Seedy Saturdays are springing up all across Canada, through the months of February and March.

The Niagara event is again going to be held at Balls Falls Conservation Area, Jordan.  The date to mark on your calendar is Feb. 12th, between the times of 10-3pm.

The focus of this event is open pollinated seeds and most definitely the heart and soul of it is the seed exchange table.  The hope is that people will bring seeds to share with others, and pick up a pack in exchange for their donation.  Last year the seeds disappeared quickly from the table. This year, in order to make sure the seeds are shared evenly by all, the table will be supervised, and seeds I am donating will be deposited at different times throughout the day.  Therefore need to rush out in the morning.  There will be seeds enough to last the day.

As well, there will be a free pack of seeds upon entering.  Again, attendees to Seedy Saturday will NOT be required to pay the Balls Falls day pass rate of $5.75, (Thank you).  However the donation I am requesting is $2.00 to help me cover the large rate increase in the room rental.  If there are excess funds collected at the door, they will all be donated to USC Canada to assist with their very valuable work in third world country agriculture.

I am delighted to announce the slate of speakers for this year.
Steven Biggs from Toronto is my "headliner" if you will.  Steve's bio is as follows:

A writer, horticulturist, and garden educator, Steven Biggs is a lifelong gardener who has managed to garden wherever he’s lived—with allotment gardens, container gardens, indoor gardens, and gardens in the overgrown backyards of rented houses. Sign up for his free vegetable gardening e-zine, Homegrown in Toronto, at

Coming in March 2011, a new book by Steven Biggs and Donna Balzer. Biggs and Balzer have gardened far and wide, from Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Grande Prairie, to Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island. Their forthcoming book, Serving Up…No Guff Vegetable Gardening, is a down-to-earth read for new gardeners, with a delicious collection of savoury tips and ideas for experienced gardeners. They keep gardening simple: taste how fun the science of gardening can be with a food-themed look at soil; make gardening practical with the scatter-and-poke method of seeding; understand the summer squash clan with a family snapshot that describes summer squash siblings. There’s more than one way to slice a tomato, and throughout their dinner date they don’t agree about everything on the table: join the debate inside.

Steve will be speaking on the topic of  fruits; the more common, currants and gooseberries, and the less common, figs.  I have always thought figs would be fun to try, and am eager to hear of Steve's experience with them.  

As well, Jen Heaton will be discussing vermi-composting (worms), master gardener Wendy Dunnville will talk about judging produce in competition, and master gardener John Renaud will discuss the value of micorizzhae fungi (myke) in planting.  Kate Green from USC Canada, will be with us as well I am happy to report, and will be showing a film called "Saving the Seed" with discussion of international seed issues after.

I'm still sorting out the time slots for all of this and will post the times soon.

Heirloom seed vendors confirmed at this time are The Cottage Gardener from Port Hope, Urban Harvest from Toronto and me (from here).  Expect to see lots of seeds for great heirloom veggies.  Make sure to chat up the vendors and folks displaying at the other tables....there is lots of knowledge there.

I am happy to welcome Seeds of Diversity, USC Canada, Premier Horticulture, Community Care, amongst others.  

Last year we had a good turnout.  Stay away snow so we can talk about growing again!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Crappy cookware and collapsed cookbooks

They say lots of strong memories can be associated with our senses of smell and  taste.

When those memories link you back to someone who is no longer with you and to fantastic childhood memories the remembrance can be bitter sweet.

My husband slipped out the door to work today, head down and told off.

You see, for years he has been after me to get a new electric range.  Of course I find this intriguing because I do all the cooking.  What is he telling me here?

So I have had it about 30 years now, a gift from my parents.  An Eaton's Viking at that.
Two of the four burners don't work and the oven runs hot.  No matter.  I know how to cook on it and bake in it.  Actually have done it for years.

But several weeks ago I broke down.  It was Boxing Week and the bargains were in the air.  I must admit, when I have guests over especially at holiday times it does get a bit tricky functioning with two burners.

So we tooted off to Hamilton and bought a new range, yet to be delivered.  I'm okay with it.  I can let go of the some degree.

But last night we pulled out the old stove and cleaned the dust bunnies and crud out from under it, in preparation for the arrival of the shiny new model.

My husband was all fired up with this progression forward.  So before heading off to work this morning he announced we were going out shopping to get a new set of pots to replace my "crappy" ones I've used for years.  I'm not real good when he makes pronouncements like this, especially when it runs into my territory.  Did I mention I do all the cooking?

The pots also are pretty special to me.  Some were my grandma's.  Some were my mom's and some were gifts from my mom.

I'm not really big on having new things.  And I am especially not big on having new things to replace those things that hold such strong memories for me.  I remember both my mom and grandma using these pots to make certain dishes that were sort of family classics.

Sorry, husband.  I love you, but no new pots for me!

My mom has been gone for a few years now, and I have boxes of things from her home that I haven't been strong enough to go through yet.  But one thing I did pull out was her "Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook", 1943 edition.

I like thumbing through it and seeing her neat schoolteacher handwritten notes and familiar recipes.
My puppy decided to pull it off the counter one day, so it is not in the best condition anymore, but she had the good sense to tear the pages off the binder, leaving the pages themselves intact.
I have to keep it in a bag to keep it all together.

But sometimes I like to pull it out and cook in those old pots. Something I can picture my mom cooking.
I'm glad for the memories, the tastes and the smells.

Got an old pot you like to use?

I used to like these squares my mom made from her book. This one was on a newspaper clipping, from The Hamilton Spectator most likely.  Perhaps from the column of great Norma Bidwell, but I am not sure.

Saucepan Gumdrop Squares
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp water
1 cup sifted cake and pastry flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup spicy gumdrops, finely cut

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  grease a 9 inch square pan

In a saucepan melt butter.  Remove from heat.  Add sugars and water, blending well.  Stir in sifted flour and baking powder.  Add vanilla and egg.  Beat well, stir in gumdrops.  Pour into prepared pan.
Bake in moderate oven for 25-30 mins.  Do not over bake.  Cool in pan and top with peppermint icing.

Peppermint Icing
1 tbsp butter
1 cup sifted icing sugar
1 tbsp warm milk
peppermint flavouring
Mix icing ingredients, adding enough milk to make icing spread easily.  Add one-two drops flavouring, and spread on cool cake.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

So you wanna be a farmer?!

 I grew up on a farm on Highway 6 North, in what was Flamborough in Southern Ontario.. West Flamborough at that.

Now it is all the City of Hamilton, but if you live there I know it is still Flamborough.  City of Hamilton...pfft!!  Like saying Wellandport is the City of St Catharines.  Double pfft!!

When my mom and dad sold our family farm in 1989 after deciding it was all a bit too much at their age, I was devastated.  One of my worst dreams.  Like when you think your parents will never die.  Like when you think your childhood home will never be sold. Then those things happen.

I racked my brain for a solution as I walked through the fields and bushes one of the last time.  But there was no solution. I couldn't buy the farm, it was beyond me.
And a part of me is still on that farm.  The part that feels an extreme peace and calm; a feeling that I am whole.  No other place on earth does that for me.

And now I am in Niagara, outside the sleepy village of Wellandport.  Most people don't know Wellandport. Even lots of people who live in the same region.  After a long stint as a harried and stressed out social worker, I try to make my living on the land.  If I could in fact survive here on my own without my husbands' income is unknown.  Most farmers have partners who work off the farm, or they themselves do.

I've done okay.  I'm not rich, but I can generally sell what I grow.  And clearly it isn't about the money anyways.

For me, it is a bit of an affair of the heart. No, I'm not on the family farm, but I'm working outside and I love the physical work.  I love "my guys", I love heirlooms  and I appreciate the new people I've met as a result of this career change.  A diverse group to be sure.  It is a heck of a lot of work though.  And if you are thinking about getting into the food growing business, you need to be realistic about quite a few things.

I always marvel at people who go into farming and growing food who didn't grow up on a farm. For me love of the land is my history.  What a huge life change if that isn't part of your knowledge base and background.  I'm intrigued where this desire comes from.  I think it is wonderful.

Over the years I've had lots of people stop in and talk to me about what I do, with the thought that they would like to do something similar.  That too has been a diverse group of people.  A lawyer who was wanting to get out of the city and grow organic food.  There have been teachers, professionals of all stripes, lots of university students and people who have grown other products.

I don't pretend to have all the answers.  I mean, how could I?  Every year there are new challenges, and you just continue to learn as you go.  I had a fellow here today, and this is what I told him.

I think the first is to be realistic.  Recognize your limits and the limits of the profession.  I know the more I  take on,  the more people I need to help me, the more I pay out in wages and supplies and the more headaches I have.  Economy of scale doesn't seem to apply to what I do.

Find your niche.  Be known for one particular thing and do it well.  Specialize in one thing, but have a diversity of products.  This will carry you through the seasons.

My best investments?  My hoophouses and my Troybilt tiller.  Then of course my little John Deere tractor! Love that tractor.

Know your markets before you grow anything.  Know that you can sell what you want to grow before you even grow it.  Really do your research.

And some things go without saying.  It is hard work, the hours are long and tiring and sometimes the pay sucks.  Especially if the weather ruins everything, machinery breaks down or the help is unreliable.

Feel good about the product you sell and only sell the best.  That is your reputation. Under-promise and over-deliver.

But most of all love what you do.  Born in the county or the city, I don't think you can farm if your heart isn't in it.  Whether a born country girl or a transplanted country girl the love of the land needs to live in you.  And in the end, love of the land is the payoff too.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Beautiful Broccoli

When then-President George W. Bush announced to the world he didn't like broccoli there was a huge uproar.  In the name of political correctness a figure such as the prez of the US should never ever put down something that everybody knows is so darn good for us. You know.  Set a good example.

But now I can relate.

I bought broccoli, certified organic at that, from Fortinos a week or so back and wondered where all the flavour went.  The interior of the stems was nearly pure white, and the whole eating experience left me feeling a bit....well...pukey, as my 80 year old neighbour Lizzy would say.

Sad, because broccoli is one of my favourite veetables.

I've been eating my own broccoli since May or so and this December wake up call is going to make me stick with the other brassicas I have in storage, namely cabbage and kohlrabi and my precious stash of kale in the freezer.  Growing your own broccoli makes all the difference in the world.  And it's not that mine is the best in the world.  Yours will be too if you grow your own.

I've spent some time talking about other brassicas, such as kales and cabbages.  Broccoli, like them, is also a member of the mustard family.  I find it fascinating to consider that all these plants descended from  one wild mustard plant...variations on a theme if you will and selected for their unique qualities.
Up until about 65 years ago, broccoli and cauliflower were both considered essentially interchangeable and both called cauliflower.   The broccoli identity had yet to emerge.

A comic in The New Yorker in the 1940's had fun with this identity confusion.  A small boy and his mother were sitting at the dinner table, and the mother says "It's broccoli dear".  "I say it's spinach" the boy replies " and I say the hell with it!"  (Was this in fact a young GWB??)

Broccoli proper has been around for a very long time and the well known variety Calabrese was grown in Italian gardens in the first century BC.  It made it's way to France and England, but didn't enjoy popularity early on as cabbage and cauliflower were much preferred.  In fact it's arrival in North America received the same lukewarm reception.

However once folks became aware of the nutritional benefits of broccoli and warmed up to the taste, the popularity of broccoli soared.  In the last 25 years broccoli consumption has increased an amazing 940 % !

Sprouting broccoli is thought to be the most ancient form of broccoli.  It seems to be a veg that is much more popular in England than here in North America.  It doesn't have a solid head as regular broccoli, but indeed all sort of little sprouting heads. I often find seed for it in the British seed catalogues, where they recommend a fall planting, overwintering and then a feast of slim, succulent heads in the spring. In our climate this is virtually impossible as it cannot withstand our harsh winters.  I have grown it here by simply planting it at the same time as regular broccoli . It is a very visually appealing plant, and yummy too, although it does need a long period to produce.

As I've written here before, my favourite typical broccoli is the open pollinated Green Goliath, which all the seed companies seem to be dropping from their catalogues.  Shame.  It is a great broccoli, producing a large head, and a seasons worth of side shoots.  It is not an heirloom, but I still prefer it to Calabrese, Umpqua or Thompson which have been recommended to me.

Other broccolis don't maybe look so much like broccoli.  Broccoli raab, is a zingy, bitter treat, Purple Peacock is Frank Morten's very clever cross of broccoli and kale (the top picture) which produces a large purple head and of course edible kale like leaves, the gorgeous chartreuse romanesco , and my personal favourites the southern Italian spigiarello, pictured above.  Spigiarello has very small head to the point of pretty much being a headless broccoli, but both the frilly and thicker leaved version are grown for their true broccoli flavoured leaves.  I have seed for many of these varieties mentioned.

If you want to plant broccoli, accept that it is a heavy feeder.  I always start mine indoors, then when they are precisely 6 weeks old, after hardening them off, plant them in a well composted soil.  I find if the plants are older they tend to bolt or produce poorly.

Chances are too those lovely fluttering cabbage butterflies will magically find them and lay their eggs.  And then appears the nasty cabbage looper, a green worm who can munch broccoli et al until it is the saddest looking plant in your garden.  To protect your plants, cover them with agricultural fabric , burying it solidly in the ground with no gaps to allow butterflies to enter.

If you have planted an open pollinated variety of broccoli, you need to overwinter it in order to save seed.  I find I can do this successfully in my hoophouse in our Southern Ontario climate and at times need to cover it with ag fabric when the temperatures dip too low.  In the spring the bright yellow mustard-type flowers give way to seed pods, which are best dried on the plant.  Broccoli readily crosses with other brassica family members so needs to be isolated or the blossoms bagged if you are collecting seed.

And now the best part....eating it!

Broccoli Cheese Soup

I've made this soup many times on chilly fall nights with fresh cut broccoli.  It is not low calorie as you can tell from the ingredients and as a vegetarian, I substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock.


  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 9 cups chicken stock
  • 9 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons white pepper
  • 5 cups fresh broccoli florets
  • 1 1/2 pounds processed cheese, shredded
  • 3 cups shredded Cheddar cheese


  1. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat, and mix in the flour. Reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Mix in the chicken stock and milk, and season with salt and white pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer about 10 minutes.
  2. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Place the broccoli in the boiling water, and cook 2 minutes, or until just tender. Remove from heat, drain, and set aside.
  3. Gradually mix the processed cheese and Cheddar cheese into the large pot until melted. Mix in the broccoli. Continue cooking about 5 minutes.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Great Seed Giveaway

Back in November when I wrote a blog post offering free seed I didn't know what to expect.
Would I be be inundated with requests for seed, or would my offer fall on deaf ears?
I was a bit concerned.
Years ago I read an article about a fellow in Pennsylvania who was giving away tomato seed.  The seed was simply called Potato Leaf.  Of course I sent for it, and the deal was that if you requested the seed, you also had to save some and send it back to the fellow, so he could continue his mail outs. This I did too.
As apparently did hundreds of thousands of people.  Pretty interesting.
Of course this didn't parallel my experience at all.  But I did give away hundreds of packets and I thank those of you who sent along little notes about your gardens. I enjoyed reading them very much.
I heard from Paula, in Dorchester who calls herself " a reluctant gardener", but has a growing interest in growing her own food and heirlooms.
There was Wendy in Ridgeway, who in 2010 beat her previous gardens' record by producing more than 1 tomato (yay!) AND sent me a funny Christmas card!
Julian in Montreal with his balcony garden.  I tried to carefully select that seed.
I really enjoyed the  letter from Bronwen in Toronto.  Thanks for writing! Bronwen is rather new to gardening, but like me, it sounds like she could lose herself in it.  She's a social worker but is feeling the urge to change and is studying agriculture.  How wonderful.
Seed also went to St Catharines, many small towns in Ontario I'd never heard of (sorry), British Columbia and the U.S.
One of my most intriguing requests came early on, and came by way of a phone call.  It was from Margaret in Toronto who works with the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre. Margaret followed up with an email The email described the work of the theatre:
"I am writing on behalf of the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People (LKTYP, formerly Young People’s Theatre,  For 45 years, LKTYP has been a charitable organization dedicated to child development through theatre. Serving 70,000 children and their families annually, LKTYP is a versatile centre for learning through the arts offering weekend performances for family audiences, integrated weekday school programs for students, scheduled workshops for teachers and a year-round drama school."
The Theatre was having a fundraiser in late November and had heard about my offer.  They were planning a day of fun events, and thought that a seed planting activity would be something just a little bit different. They needed a fair bit of seed, in fact hundreds of packets.  I was a little reluctant, as I didn't want my seed to run out in case more requests came along.
As it turned out of course the seed I donated was for the very special Jolly Jester Marigold.  The same seed I had donated for Davids' funeral several months earlier (See blog post "The Power of Seed"). 
I told Margaret this story, and I know the donation was a lot more meaningful.  Seed is pretty amazing.
The event was a success and a good connection was made.  I look forward to going to see a performance at the theatre and of Margaret's visit to Wellandport when she's in Niagara.
And still there was seed left!  But one email has changed all that.
Now the rest of the seed is winging it's way to-believe it or not-Las Vegas!  Las Vegas is tough to garden in, but Leslie, an acquaintance and fellow Organic Garden Magazine test gardener is up to the challenge. 
She makes desert gardening look easy, and is heavily involved with the Tonopah Community Gardens.  These consist of 50 raised beds and 4 raised rows that are each 250 feet long.  
Few folks in Las Vegas grow food because of the desert conditions.  Some days it isn't even possible to go outside because of the heat. But Leslie is all about changing that.  I'm pretty happy to be able to help her out with my seed.
So that's it!  2010 seed is distributed and the 2011 listing is up on my website. Finally.
Thanks for writing everyone....glad to have made the connections!